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Winter Paddocks- Part 1

Winter is upon us and if you havn’t already prepared a proper ‘winterized’ paddock with clean, dry footing, out of the mud and slush, you’d better start planning and building one now!!

By Alayne Renee Blickle (from

Tired of confining your horse in that muddy, dusty, smelly and fly-infested pen? Are you looking for some new ideas on how to care for your horse during the winter months or rainy season? Or wondering where to keep your horse before your pastures are on the brink of being over-grazed? Or when your horse is in need of a “diet pen”?

Having a horse-friendly, easy-to-care-for paddock for your horse is central to horse-keeping. The bonus for you is that having “the perfect horse paddock” will be better for your horse’s health, more chore-efficient for you, nicer for all to look at, and cleaner for the environment.

Probably the most important aspect of managing your pastures is the time when you take your horses off the land. You can greatly improve the health and productivity of your grazing areas by creating and using a paddock, often called a “sacrifice area.” The reason it is called this is because you are sacrificing that small portion of grassy land for the sake of the rest of your pastures.

Pastures need “rest periods” to allow them time to grow and rejuvenate. For pasture health and productivity, it is important to never allow pastures to be grazed below three inches. Once grass plants are grazed below that level, they begin to lose vigor and strength. In essence, they begin to die, and the downward spiral of bare soil, dust and weeds begins to take hold.

As all of us horse owners know, mud is extremely inconvenient, making barn life messy and unpleasant-not to mention, an eyesore for all. And the summertime version of mud is dust-which is equally unhealthy for us, our horses and our neighbors.

Living in mud is unhealthy. Mud harbors bacteria and fungal organisms that cause diseases such as abscesses, scratches, rain scald and thrush. Mud is also a breeding ground for insects, especially filth flies and mosquitoes-a big concern for everyone now that West Nile Virus has reached most of our neighborhoods.

Horses fed on muddy or dusty ground can ingest dirt or sand particles leading to colic, a very serious digestive disorder. Mud also creates slick, unsafe footing that can cause horses and people to slip and suffer injuries.

The perfect paddock offers good environmental controls without sedimentary and nutrient run-off. Run-off from mud and manure is harmful to creeks and drinking water, so you’ll need to be mindful of this when setting up the paddock and the location of your manure disposal area. More productive, grassy pastures will hold onto valuable topsoil and filter out nutrients and sediments-more pluses for the environment. All of this adds up to bonuses for everyone. So let’s begin!

Planning Your Paddocks
If you don’t already have a location for your perfect paddock, begin by choosing an appropriate site. Choose an area on high ground, away from creeks, wetlands or other water bodies, and well away from surface water flows (such as a hill that slopes toward you). If possible, choose well-draining soils, not organic, mucky ones. And look for a slight slope (about 1% to 2% is optimal) that will drain away from your barns and confinement areas.

For chore efficiency, your confinement areas should be convenient to your barn and manure storage area to make it easy for you to care for your horse and maintain the paddock

One paddock per horse makes it easy to monitor each horse’s health, and to regulate individual intake of food and water. It also helps to alleviate problems that might occur during your absence, like ending up with one fat horse and one skinny horse. Individual paddocks can also prevent a dominant horse from trapping a subordinate in a corner.

Having horses in paddocks next to each other so they can see each other alleviates stress. If you have a barn with stalls you may find it easiest to set up paddocks as runs off each stall. This chore-efficient arrangement gives the horse free access to a paddock to move around in as well as the stall for a shelter and a clean, dry, convenient place to feed.

The size of a confinement area can vary from that of a generous box stall, say 16 feet x 16 feet, to that of a long, narrow enclosure where a horse can actually trot or even gallop about to get some exercise. If you want your horse to be able to run or play in his paddock, an enclosure of about 20-30 feet wide x 100 feet long is usually recommended.

The amount of land you have available, the number of horses, their ages, temperaments, and the amount of regular exercise they receive, all play an important role in determining the size you choose to make your sacrifice areas.

Using a sacrifice area confines manure and urine to a smaller space where you can have better control of it. Picking up the manure every one to three days will help reduce your horse’s parasite load as well as reducing flies and insects by eliminating their habitat. Regular removal of manure also greatly reduces the amount of mud that develops.

Eliminating mud in the winter is your key to reducing dust in the summer, too. Reducing mud and manure will help prevent contaminated run-offs from reaching the surface and ground waters in your area as well. The manure you pick up can be composted and reapplied to your pastures during the growing season, another plus for your pasture management program!

Part 2 coming next week- Solid Footing…

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